The pledge on counter-terrorism came as the two countries agreed a five-year term for business and student visas, and at a time when they are keen to fast-track plans for direct flights between Nairobi and Washington DC. They also signed deals on infrastructure, energy and agriculture.
Obama paid tribute to the Kenyan Defence Forces participating in the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which is fighting al-Shabaab and also thanked Kenyan for hosting Somali refugees.
Obama said in the counter-terrorism strategy against al-Shabaab, the military should dovetail with the operations of the Judiciary, the Kenya Police and border security.
“In the face of despicable violence such as the attack on Garissa University college and the West-Gate Mall, the Kenyan people have shown incredible resolve and remarkable resilience.
“Today we discussed deepening our security co-operation as part of our security governance initiative. Our governments signed an action plan yesterday in which we’ll support Kenya’s efforts to strengthen its judiciary, police and border security,” said Obama at a joint press conference with President Kenyatta at State House Nairobi on Saturday.
“We also discussed broader efforts to counter violent extremism here in Kenya and around the world. Efforts that are advanced when there’s rule of law, respect for human rights, a space for civil society and peaceful dissent and we welcome all communities as our partners”.
In the recent months Kenya has suffered terror attacks that have left painful memories in the lives of many families across Kenya. In 2013, Westgate Mall, the then biggest mall in East and Central Africa was attacked one Saturday morning and the wanton destruction left about 70 people dead. In April this year, the attack that is still fresh in the minds of Kenyans happened at Garissa University and left about 150 people dead.
Because of the active role of the Kenyan Defence Forces fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia as part of the African Union troops, Kenya has borne the brunt of terror on many occasions. It’s against this backdrop that the United States has pledged more support towards fighting terrorism in Kenya. Intelligence sharing, additional funding, assistance to the security training are some of the measures that the US has pledged in to Kenya to aid in fighting terror.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said that Kenya was making strides in this fight but needed support as the war on terrorism was not Kenya’s alone and that Kenya was forced to be on the frontier because it neigboured Somalia. He added that Somali’s government needed to be stabilised in order to decrease the space in which Al-Shabaab was operating in.
“We are fighting global terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life. Left undefeated, they will redraw the international system, and make room for violent extremism and tyranny. We agreed together that we can build a future in which our people of all faiths, cultures live peacefully together, with the rights of individuals and minorities protected and those in power held to account by strong and inclusive institutions……without building shared prosperity our vision of a secure Africa and indeed a stable world will remain a fragile dream,” Kenyatta said.
Obama said the war on terror was being won because for now, the area under control of the al Shabaab militants in Somalia had been reduced and their networks “weakened”. He noted that the “credible Somalia government” in place was working with the international community in Mogadishu and needed to be supported.
“In addition we have to continue to make progress in intelligence sharing and being able to identify and prevent threats before they occur here in Kenya and elsewhere in the region. If you paint any particular community with two brushes, you are restricting legitimate organisations, reducing the scope of peaceful organisation, with the inadvertent effects of increasing the pull of recruits for terrorists and resentment in communities that feel marginalised,” said Obama as he warned Kenya against targeting Muslims.
He noted that the US had been conscious in enforcing laws that aimed to reach out to the people and cooperating to build partnerships and weed out the effects of social media on young people. He reiterated the need to embrace the Civil Society Organisations as it was a practical and the right thing to do.
On regional security, Obama stated that leaders of South Sudan had to put their country first. He castigated Burundi for having non-credible elections and called on the opposition and the government to have talks and find a solution to the current crisis to avoid more deaths.